April 22, 2020 | By Jen Collins
Undaunted. Optimistic. Courageous. Excited.
Hopeful. Focused. Anxious. Grateful.
What a difference six months can make. Last October, the Beeck Center’s Investor Council, a group of influential fund managers, investors and developers committed to creating positive impact in low-income communities, met and talked about the promise in Opportunity Zones. When they met again a few weeks ago, the mission hadn’t changed but the conversation centered on a new challenge.
Thanks to COVID-19, business is being interrupted, there is great uncertainty in the markets, and the need for access to capital in underinvested neighborhoods has never been greater. This pandemic is highlighting the imbalance of strength and power as it’s negative effects are being disproportionately felt in low-income and underinvested communities. Furthermore, it is underscoring the need for sustained investment with a focus on innovation by maximizing assets and leveraging relationships to positively impact social outcomes.
Capitalizing on the investment and work to-date in OZ’s at the community level is an ideal conduit for immediate implementation of creative ideas for urgent, location-based community needs. Thankfully, the Investor Council has an attitude of innovation as well as their commitment to help vulnerable communities. Members were eager to share and showcase their ideas with each other for how to put assets they already have – physical, financial, and interpersonal – to work.
Originally, the meeting was scheduled for Baltimore’s Hotel Revival, a property owned by one of the Council members. But while the crisis turned this event into a virtual meeting, appropriately, the hotel itself has been busy listening to the community, and working to meet its needs. They’ve opened the kitchen so local chefs can use it as a base for food prep and takeout orders. Rooms that would have gone unused are now offered free of charge to first responders and health care workers who need to stay close to downtown. And on Easter Sunday, staff put together Easter baskets for folks in the neighborhood.
Interview with Hotel Revival General Manager Donte Johnson on CNN, April 12, 2020
Members agreed that while this crisis is significant, the opportunity to deliver positive impact on communities is still there and necessary more than ever before. This crisis has further exposed the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on vulnerable and low income communities and will increase the call for more sustained investments in communities of need across the country. With millions of Americans in all communities living one health incident away from financial disaster, we cannot avoid the inequities in our systems any longer.
People need to work together and collaborate with new networks to find solutions, look at how the future of work will change, and adjust projects to meet that future. Opportunities will exist in this new economy, whether in affordable housing, broadband access, or short-term financing requests for businesses making pivots, and investors and developers should consider those as they plan for a post-COVID-19 world.
I recently penned an Op-Ed for The Hill outlining how local businesses will drive the economic recovery, and I wrote, “While the crisis our nation confronts is challenging, it is also a powerful opportunity for visionary leadership to prevail and for local businesses to reimagine community impact.”
That’s why I’m excited to announce our latest effort – Assets for Impact. Inspired by Council members like Think Food Group and LISC, we’re collecting stories from across the business community on how they’re using what they have for a new purpose. Then using the Beeck Center’s network of networks, we’ll spread these ideas across the country and around the world for others to put into action wherever they are.
If you have a story to share, please visit our site and add it to our growing collection. Use the hashtag #Assets4Impact on social media and inspire others to build the community we want and deserve. We’ve seen how people can come together in crisis, let’s continue to work together for when we return to whatever future normal looks like.
Jen Collins is a Fellow-in Residence at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter @JenCollins24
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